The physical environment can determine whether you feel calm and comfortable or stressed and distracted. If you have ever covered your ears to drown out earsplitting noise or squinted in a dim room, you know how noise and lighting can affect your physical condition and well-being.
In the childcare setting, a comfortable, safe, and healthy environment includes noise control and appropriate lighting.
Childcare facilities are typically noisy with sounds of happy children. Active children and their teachers and caregivers, room design, furnishings, traffic, appliances, and other factors contribute to noise levels.
Research indicates that chronic exposure to loud noise is harmful to children. Young children, particularly infants, are susceptible to the effects of loud noises.
Studies have linked chronic noise to hearing loss; problems with speech, reading and attention skills; and even elevated blood pressure levels in children. There also is evidence that chronic noise affects motivation by decreasing childrens ability to persist, or keep with a task.
Many childcare providers may have a noisy building and wish they could start from scratch to design a better space. But there are things you can do to create a quieter environment no matter how the building is structured. For instance, hard wall and floor surfaces contribute to noise; so carpets, rugs and textile wall hangings are helpful.
Rugs and carpets that have a pad underneath them are even more effective for controlling noise. Soft window treatments, like curtains, also can help.
Try conducting your own noise analysis without the children present. Can you move a noisy printer or copier to another room?
Could the lawn be mowed after hours? Would moving children away from the heating and cooling vent that sputters during naptime result in a more restful environment? Often, resourcefulness and planning can reduce noise levels without costing money.
Even though light has a tremendous impact on the physical environment and can affect physical and psychological health, it is often a neglected aspect of interior design. There is very little research on how young children are affected by light.
Most studies of interior lighting have focused on older children in school settings, where activities are quite different from the childcare environment. Lighting that is too intense or bright can be over stimulating, while murky, dim lighting can contribute to depression and lethargy.
When there are lighting issues, the tendency is to try to solve the problem with more light; however, it is often not the amount of light that is the issue, but the quality.
There are several aspects to the quality of light: brightness, glare, reflection, shadow, color rendition (how a color looks when illuminated under a light source), and contrast between light and dark all need to be considered.
Experiment with different bulbs and light fixtures to see which ones produce the best quality of light in your facility. Remember to look at lighting not only from your adult height, but also from childrens level.
If the amount of light is a problem, look at increasing the intensity of the bulb, cleaning fixture covers (dirt and dust filter light output), and use neutral, light-colored paint on walls to reduce the need for artificial light.
Types of Light
There are several types of lighting. Incandescent lighting is used frequently in homes. Incandescent light bulbs are inexpensive to purchase, but are more expensive than fluorescent bulbs to operate because they are less efficient and have shorter life. Incandescent light is noted for its warm appearance, instant illumination, and pleasant color rendition.
Fluorescent lighting is most frequently used in commercial and institutional settings and is more efficient to operate than incandescent lights. Fluorescent lights have a reputation for providing irritating, poor quality light. Some of the newer fluorescent lamps, such as compact fluorescent bulbs, produce light that is similar to that of incandescent bulbs.
Full-spectrum lighting, which mimics the qualities of natural light, can be either fluorescent or incandescent. Typically, light bulbs labeled as full spectrum are more expensive than other light bulbs.
Natural light is important to a healthy environment and has been linked to neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. If windows are located too high for children to see out, you might try installing a loft that would give them a height boost, while keeping in mind safety regulations.
Skylights are another excellent way to increase natural light indoors. Natural light is important for children and adults. If your area lacks natural light, daily outdoor play is even more important.
Appropriate lighting matches the function of the room with the tasks that will be performed there. For example, the computer station, where glare is often a concern, might require different lighting from the books and library center, where cool light is needed for visual or looking at books.
Some areas of the building, such as stairwells, need additional lighting for safety reasons. If some areas of a room seem to need more light, consider using strategically placed fixtures such as clip-on lamps and track lighting to provide extra illumination.
When possible, use flexible lighting options, like dimmers, that can adjust the lighting in the room throughout the day and make transitions, like naptime, smoother.
Comfort and Safety
Lighting must always be sufficient for supervision of children. Light bulbs, lamps, and tubes should be shatter-proof or protected by shields.
In case of a power failure, rooms without windows, skylights, or other natural light need emergency lighting that operates independently of the regular power source. While most lighting concerns are focused on the interior of the building, remember that outdoor lighting is an important part of your facilitys safety and security equipment as well.
Paying attention to noise control and lighting can not only help you and the children in your care be comfortable, but it can be crucial to create a safe and healthy childcare environment.
Work with all the caregivers in your program--and even ask the children--to identify the problem areas in your center, and take some steps toward making improvements. Even the simplest changes can make a surprisingly big difference that everyone will notice.
Marna Holland, EdD
Parent educator, Asheville City Schools Preschool, Asheville, North Carolina
Classroom Design for Good Hearing, www.quietclassrooms.org/library/goodhearing.htm
Design of Child Care Centers and Effects of Noise on Young Children, www.designshare.com/Research/Lmaxwell/NoiseChildren.htm
Noise and Learning, www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr011.shtml
Sound Decisions Improve Learning, asumag.com/mag/university_sound_decisions_improve/
Quiet Classrooms, www.quietclassrooms.org/library/bydesign.htm
U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewal Energy, www.eere.energy.gov/consumer